Pressley, Markey Introduce Fare Free Public Transit legislation. LA will start fare free public transit for students in August and low income riders in January.

LA moves closer to offering zero-fare transit, June 10, 2021, by Jason Plautz

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  • The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (L.A. Metro) is moving closer to eliminating fares for students and low-income riders, an effort that could make bus and train rides free for more than 70% of Los Angeles passengers.
  • The L.A. Metro Board of Directors voted unanimously last month to explore a 23-month pilot that would give free fares to K-12 students, community college students and riders who make less than $35,000 a year. A final decision on the pilot will come after the board receives a financial report on the potential impact of the program. 
  • If approved, Los Angeles would join several other cities that have recently offered free fares to certain riders. Agencies in Kansas CityBostonSeattle and Richmond, Virginia, have offered free fares to some riders, and other systems, including Washington, D.C., are exploring it.

Advocates have pitched the pilot as a way to help alleviate the high cost of living in Los Angeles, with the added benefit of getting riders back onto buses and trains after years of ridership declines

“When ridership declines, we set this region up for worsening traffic that would have continued if not for the shutdown during the pandemic,” said Eli Lipmen, director of programming and development for the transit advocacy group MoveLA. “We have an opportunity to set a different path, one that promises to restore and increase service and also provide relief for those who have been most affected by the pandemic.”

The pilot does come with funding questions, although 2020 fares were less than $500 million of Metro’s overall $8 billion fiscal year 2022 budget. According to L.A. Metro surveys, more than 70% of riders make less than $35,000 a year.The pilot is estimated to cost $321 million, according to Rick Jager, a spokesman for the service. 

The board wants a fiscal report that would show how federal and state grants could cover the cost of the program and account for any increase in service necessary from a boost in ridership, Jager said. Transit agencies in the greater Los Angeles area will receive more than $1.6 billion from the American Rescue Plan Congress passed this year, which could help cover the pilot cost. 

The plan is for the pilot to start for students this August and expand to low-income riders in January 2022, but Jager said that timeline could change based on the results of the financial report, expected some time this summer. 

Another open question is whether neighboring districts and bus operators will create similar pilots to make fareless transit a regionwide reality. The Santa Monica Daily Press reports that municipal bus operators outside of L.A. Metro have expressed concern about the budget impact of participating in a fareless program. 

2019 Massachusetts Institute of Technology study that offered 50% discounted transit fares to some low-income Boston residents found that the subsidized riders took 30% more trips and took more trips to health care and social services, suggesting an increase in quality of life. However, already-strapped transit agencies are weighing such benefits against potential negative budget impacts, which could force them to cut service or reduce costs elsewhere. Those concerns have blocked attempts to cut or eliminate fares in some cities, like Houston, and theycontinue to loom over pilot programs. “Once we launch this pilot program, we don’t want to pull back on it,” Jager said. “We want to make sure we have the money to fund this before it launches.”

Art Guzzetti, vice president for policy and mobility at the American Public Transportation Association, said these proposals could help boost ridership at a time when transit services need more attention. 

“Generally speaking, transit services need to be easy to understand, to use and pay for. Zero fare programs allow persons in the community to hop on and off public transportation whether or not they have the correct transit pass or ticket in their pocket,” Guzzetti said in an email. “Thus, the facility of zero fare can be a boost to ridership in itself. Beyond that, extending the affordability of the transit trip will encourage persons to use transit for many trips they might otherwise forgo.”

See: Boston pilots free public transit in bid for equitable COVID recovery and Who will pay for Kansas City, MO’s free transit?


Rep. Pressley, Sen. Markey introduce fare-free public transit legislation, by Liz Carey | June 30, 2020 |

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U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) introduce legislation Friday to their respective houses of Congress that would promote public transportation and provide fare-free public transit systems.

Called the Freedom to Move Act, the legislation would support state and local efforts to implement fare-free public transportation systems by establishing a $5 billion competitive grant program to offset fare revenues for transit agencies. The program would also invest in public transportation services, with a special focus on low-income and historically underserved communities by covering operational costs, investing in access for bus systems, redesigning and improving bus routes, and modernizing surface infrastructure to alleviate traffic congestion and improve multi-modal accessibility.

“Our public transit systems are meant to provide communities with the mobility and freedom to access critical services, but far too many in the Massachusetts 7th and across the country lack reliable, safe, and affordable transit service,” Pressley said. “The Freedom to Move Act invests heavily in our public transit systems so that states and localities can offer safe, high-quality, and fare-free rides, and would ensure that everyone in community—including our essential workers who depend heavily on public transportation—can access jobs, food and essential services like education and health care.”

According to the lawmakers, before the COVID-19 pandemic, workers and families were spending more time and money commuting than ever before. Low-income families bore the biggest financial burden, spending nearly 30 percent of their household income on transportation expenses, data showed.

By increasing access to free, safe, and reliable public transit systems, lawmakers felt they would be able to improve community livability and mobility.

“Affordability and accessibility must define our public transit systems to ensure they truly spur economic growth and community development,” Markey said. “By supporting state and local efforts to implement fare-free public transit systems, we can provide low-income workers and families, seniors, and individuals with disabilities with improved access to jobs, education, and medical care, all while simultaneously reducing traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.”

The legislation is supported by a number of groups and advocacy organizations, including LivableStreets Alliance, Alternatives for Community and Environment, Transport Workers Union of America International Union, Allston Brighton Health Collaborative, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, Massachusetts Senior Action Council, Action 4 Equity, Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition, Green Newton, Boston Cyclist Union, Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, WalkBoston, Transit Matters, Community Labor United, Green Roots Chelsea, Bikes Not Bombs, MASS, Conservation Law Foundation, MASSPIRG, and the Sierra Club Massachusetts.

Rep. Pressley, Sen. Markey Introduce Legislation to Fund Fare-Free Transit

By Christian MilNeil,

Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and Senator Ed Markey today announced a new bill – the “Freedom to Move Act” – that would provide grant funding to help states and local transit agencies eliminate fares.

The proposed legislation would authorize $5 billion a year to fund “Freedom to Move Grants” – a new competitive grant program that would compensate agencies for the value of lost fare revenues and finance service upgrades like improved bus stops, redesigned routes, and transit-priority infrastructure.

“The Freedom to Move Act invests heavily in our public transit systems so that states and localities can offer safe, high-quality, and fare-free rides, and would ensure that everyone in community—including our essential workers who depend heavily on public transportation—can access jobs, food and essential services like education and health care,” wrote Congresswoman Pressley in a press announcement for the new bill.

Research of the MBTA’s fare systems suggests that higher transit fares suppress mobility options for low-income households. But finding alternative funding to replace lost fare revenue has been, to date, one of the biggest challenges for advocates who’d like to see agencies reduce fares or eliminate them altogether.

At the MBTA, for instance, fares were budgeted to contribute about $694 million this year – roughly one third of the agency’s $2 billion annual operating budget.

Eliminating fares may be more achievable at smaller transit agencies where fares make up a much smaller piece of the budget.

In Worcester, for instance, the WRTA collects about $3 million a year in fares – about 14 percent of the agency’s operating costs – but the costs of maintaining fareboxes and administering sales costs the agency about $850,000 every year. Evidence suggests that recent fare hikes have also contributed to recent declines in ridership.

The Worcester Regional Research Bureau, an independent nonprofit public policy organization, has argued that the WRTA would be better off without fares.

The agency is currently considering the idea, and while finding an adequate replacement for the lost fare revenue remains the concept’s biggest challenge, the new legislation from Rep. Pressley and Sen. Markey could finally give them the “freedom to move” in that direction.

Read the bill text of “The Freedom to Move Act”

Read Rep. Pressley’s fact sheet on “The Freedom to Move Act”